New Planning Commissioners

New Planning Commissioners were appointed this evening. Councilman Glen Becerra reappointed Mary Bibb to the Planning Commission. Newly elected Councilman Mike Judge nominated Kenneth Rice, long term Simi Valley resident. Both were unanimously voted in to the Planning Commission.

Mayor Bob Huber nominated Scott Santino who was his Campaign Chair during the Mayoral campaign. The Mayor introduced Santino, discussing his background as a businessman and long time contributor to the community through various community organizations. Scott Santino’s appointment was not unanimous, with votes of opposition from Councilman Glen Becerra and Councilman Steve Sojka. No official word from either on why they voted no, but I suspect members of the press will chase them down for questions and publish something official later in the week.

There has been a lot of speculation from insiders during the past several weeks regarding Santino’s appointment to the Planning Commission. It’s widely believed that Santino intends to run for City Council in two years. Two years of service on the Planning Commission can be beneficial for a hopeful candidate for City Council. Councilwoman Barbra Williamson served on the Planning Commission before being elected to the Council, and former candidate Keith Mashburn was also a Planning Commissioner when he threw his hat in the ring last summer. Being a business owner and Planning Commissioner looks favorable on a ballot, not to mention the added benefit of two years of name recognition and experience in City business.

Though just a rumor at this point, the next election cycle could be just as interesting as the last if Scott Santino runs. He would likely draw the same support from the POA. I plan to stock up on blood pressure medication!

Our New City Council

Tonight, we’ll get to see our new City Council Members sworn in. Regardless of your position throughout the campaigns, this must be exciting for most of us who follow these matters. Well, at least it is for me. Tonight we’ll see how our choices at the polls translate into real life action as the folks we voted in take their seats.

This will be an emotional evening. Mayor Paul Miller is retiring after decades of service to the community. I don’t want to see him go. Two years ago, I produced artwork and posted signs for an underdog candidate for Mayor who ran against him for no other reason than to attempt to break-up what I referred to as the “status quo” and what I perceived to be Mayor Miller’s easy, unchallenged ride back into his seat. Even the candidate who challenged him agreed that Miller was doing it right, agreeing with him on almost every point during the candidate forums. I realized when he was easily re-elected that I had more to learn about Paul Miller before I could comfortably say he wasn’t the choice for Mayor. I will miss Paul Miller.

Michelle Foster will also be stepping down, handing her seat over to newly elected Councilman Mike Judge. Foster’s campaign for re-election was clean and steady. In what has been described as an anti-incumbent atmosphere, this election cycle had to be tough for both Foster and Becerra. But Foster’s passion for the community is such that I predicted she wouldn’t get overly aggressive, attack her opponents or do anything that could be perceived as negative. And she didn’t. One could speculate that she’s stepping down as a result of that, but one can only speculate. The fact is that she is stepping down in the same positive light and with the same stellar reputation with which she joined the Council. Though she won’t be sitting at the dais, her work will almost certainly continue.

Miller and Foster will be saying their good-bye’s this evening at 5:00PM at City Council Chambers. I work out of town, but will be trying my best to get there to see them off. Hopefully some of you can do the same.

City Councilman Mike Judge and Mayor Bob Huber will be sworn in this evening. Both of these new members of the Council have indicated publicly via interviews or through community channels that they intend to put Simi Valley’s best interests first. Both have discussed reuniting the council after what could be described as a heated battle. I believe them and look forward to seeing what they bring to the table and how they serve the community. The swearing in begins tonight at 7:30PM at City Council Chambers.

Sign Stakeout Letter Round-up

Letters to the editor of the Simi Valley Acorn always represent a wide range of thoughts and emotions on various topics. Themes will last for weeks at a time, or months at a time during the election season.

One of the most recent topics that seems to polarize the community is related to the issue of the Huber for Mayor sign stakeout. Detective Arabian has a solid reputation as a police officer and as a detective. Following the initial breaking of the news by the Acorn, the paper followed it up a week later with an editorial questioning whether or not the detective, an active supporter of Huber’s campaign, made an error by volunteering for the stakeout task.

There’s a heck of a lot more to this story that most of us probably don’t know. The letters to the editor this week begin to shed some light on that fact. What follows is a summary of letters on the topic. Read them all to draw your own conclusion…

Police have a duty to investigate – Writer believes police should investigate sign thefts as a top priorty to protect first amendment rights. Suggests a cost savings to the city of $2000.

Becerra got a call about his signs too – Writer shares details regarding a phone call to Councilman Glen Becerra. Also expresses concern about how this information was leaked to the press.

Huber should have done the stakeout – Writer suggests Huber should have conducted his own investigation regarding sign thefts and doesn’t believe it was effective use of law enforcement resources.

Involvement was a conflict of interest – Writer believes that the detective who is a known supporter of Huber, appearing in his campaigns, should not have conducted the stakeout as it represents a conflict of interest.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be a middle ground on this issue…

Endorsement for Glen Becerra

Council Member Glen Becerra announced a new endorsement this morning. He’s received the endorsement of Sheriff-Elect Geoff Dean. According to the announcement:

“Glen Becerra has always made public safety his number one priority for the City of Simi Valley, and I am proud to stand with Glen because of this commitment to his community. He has never wavered from his stance that strong public safety services are vital toward the quality of life in his community.”

Geoff Dean, Sherrif-Elect for Ventura County

This announcement nicely rounds out a roster or worthy endorsements for Glen Becerra, including Congressman Elton Gallegly, the Ventura County Firefighters Association, Ventura County Supervisor Peter Foy, former Simi Valley Mayor Greg Stratton and Council Member and Candidate for Mayor Steve Sojka.

Mashburn Wants No Benefits

Today’s letter to the editor from Candidate Keith Mashburn:

In light of the situation in the city of Bell, the Acorn recently identified the salary of our council members at about $14,000 annually. As it turns out, this is not the total compensation the taxpayers provide to our council members.

In addition to the salary, a council member receives an additional $400 per month car allowance. What most people are not aware of is that council members also receive medical benefits as well as retirement benefits and other forms of benefits.

For them to be compensated with benefits from a part-time public service position that are normally reserved for full-time employment is excessive. A council member’s total compensation reaches about $53,000 per year.

I currently pay $1,400 per month for my medical insurance. I am not running for City Council so the taxpayer can pay my medical insurance and provide me a second retirement for part-time work.

If elected, I will not accept these benefits and will move for their elimination. And under all circumstances, whenever the question is asked about pay, the total compensation package will be reported.

I am running for council because I want to give back, not receive. Every citizen should rest in the fact that they get quality representation for the lowest cost possible; unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be happening on any level of government today.

The taxpayers of Simi Valley deserve to know exactly how much they are paying their elected officials. After all, they are paying the bills.
Keith Mashburn
Simi Valley

Council Member Glen Becerra indicated in our live discussion on Tuesday night that he didn’t join the City Council for the pay. I believe him. I don’t think any of the candidates I’ve spoken to have ever led me to believe that. Benefits or total compensation aside, I don’t believe the pay can be a motivator. The hours, commitment, exposure to public scrutiny, etc., cannot be easier to swallow by taking home $14K a year, even if the benefits that come with it are juicy. You either have a passion for the community, or you don’t. No one is doing it for the pay.

Regarding transparency of figures, I don’t believe these numbers were as transparent as we’re supposed to believe. It’s on the website now, but it wasn’t before the Bell scandal. Transparent now, yes! Transparent last year, no way. The information was available to anyone who asked, but to the casual website browser, you weren’t going to find the details. If you wanted it, you could get it, but it was not a “transparency of government” situation in the true sense of the phrase.

Regarding the total compensation figure of approximately $53K annually, I’ve argued whether or not the figure is fair. I think the figure is a fair representation of the work we expect from a City Council Member of a city like Simi Valley. Note: I have to claim ignorance regarding the technique of deferring health benefits to later in life — I do not know if that’s a practice that any Council Members engage in. To me, it comes off like a way to cheat the system, but perhaps I need to be better educated on the topic.

Council Members have been criticized for not knowing the $53K figure. There’s a total bottom-line cost for every employee of every company or organization. In most cases, the employee doesn’t have a break down of those figures. Over 10 years ago, I worked for a website development company as a programmer. I was paid $73K per year. I received benefits, a 401K, paid time off, and participated in a stock purchase program. About a year after leaving that company, my former boss shared with me that my actual cost was about $97K annually, including not only my gross pay, but the additional costs for my benefits and 401K matching. I was shocked. I always considered myself someone who made $73K on paper, but took home barely 60% of that. The $97K figure never factored into my thoughts. When I ask others what they think they cost their employer, most people simply rattle off their gross pay like I did.

I bring this up to demonstrate just how complicated it is for me to wrap my head around this topic to determine what’s right or wrong. I applaud Keith Mashburn for considering the taxpayers. But I’ve said it before, I wouldn’t object if he changed his mind on this position. If the obligations and commitment to being a City Council member are what I’ve been led to believe, as a taxpayer it would not bother me knowing they were compensated beyond their $14K salary.

More Council Meeting Highlights

One of the first things we saw in the City Council Meeting on Monday night was the presentation by the Farmers Insurance representative regarding their departure from Simi Valley. He read the letter aloud that was addressed to City Council a few days ago and then answered direct questions. Council Member Glen Becerra expressed his concerns:

Eric David Halub, former candidate for Simi Valley Mayor, presented a series of thoughts seemingly strung together on the fly. Among those thoughts was the notion that Council Salary/Benefits have been kept secret from the commuity. Council Member Sojka and candidate for Mayor responded during Council comments:

Last Night’s Explosive Council Meeting

Join me tonight at 7:00pm for a LIVE BROADCAST with Council Members Glen Becerra and Michelle Foster @ VoteSimiValley.com

What a night.  I’m still not sure what I saw. I’ll try my best to recap the evening here.

To cut right to the chase, the City did implement E-Verify as a pilot program to start, intending to run E-Verify checks on City employs with the purpose of evaluating the service for the course of one year. After a period of one year, they will make a judgment on how to expand the program.

Public remarks on E-Verify were strongly in favor of implementing the program. Most people who spoke positively about the program were greeted with applause when they were through speaking. Candidate Bob Huber took the opportunity to recap the city’s response to the E-Verify issue, first mentioning Mayor Miller’s letter calling E-Verify a “flip of the coin,” next referencing his paid ad in the Acorn responding to the letter, and finally pointing out what appeared to be the City’s about face on the topic and its arrival on the Council agenda. Huber masterfully avoided criticism regarding the Ventura County College District’s lack of E-Verify implementation, saying if the College District were to implement it, he would be all for it, but that’s not the issue here. No one pressed the issue.

Steve Sojka led the charge in challenging E-Verify during council discussions. He questioned whether or not the proposed ordinance would be truly free if a system for audit would be implemented to ensure it’s proper usage. Sojka and other’s continued to press hard to determine whether or not liability issues existed in the event of false positives, and the systems accuracy was challenged. Council Member Michelle Foster seemed truly concerned that an implementation of E-Verify without further consideration might indicate the Council is caving to political pressure. Ultimately, however, the program was approved for implementation in a limited fashion as indicated in the first paragraph.

UPDATE: Foster was supportive of implementing E-Verify for City Hall, but was concerned about implementing it for city Contracts.  Her preference was to vote on its implementation for City Hall separately from its implementation for city contracts.

Public remarks were particularly explosive. One gentleman opted to point out that the City has an illegal immigrant problem, referencing “illegals” that loiter behind the Wells Fargo bank branch on L.A. Avenue. When Council Member Becerra asked the man how he knew they were illegal aliens, the man mentioned they stood around, didn’t speak English and rode their bikes, among other things. Becerra made a suggestion that the man might be racial profiling, resulting in dramatic shouting and the man’s loud refusal to “answer racist questions.” This clearly indicated the emotions behind illegal immigration and certainly the controversial positions some have on the topic.

Particularly noteworthy were the public remarks from former Mayoral Candidate Eric David Halub. I’m sure I’ll take a considerable amount of criticism for saying this, but the gentleman made little sense. He seemed to be annoyed, but his inability to connect the dots in his presentations left me wondering if he felt the Council Members were overpaid or were untouchable gods. At one point, he referred to our President as President Obama Hussein. Cute. I found myself glad that my wife and kids weren’t there, and I took comfort in the fact that I was sitting close to the Chief of Police. I might start bringing pepper spray to the Council meetings.

Additional public remarks varied, some even questioning the pay and benefits of sitting Council Members. Sojka took the opportunity to respond on that topic during Council comments, indicating the Council has always been transparent. Members of the audience questioned this openly among one another. While I’ve known about Council salary and benefits since the Simi Valley POA published the details in a paid ad in the Acorn, most have only recently taken notice after the City posted the details on the City website weeks ago.

The fireworks drowned out the excitement behind the Military Banner program which was approved. The Council also discussed the Waste Management landfill expansion, hearing commentary from the public, including Louis Pandolfi, the most outspoken member of the community against the landfill.  The Council agreed to start communicating with the County Board of Supervisors to represent Simi Valley’s interests on the topic.

A weak recap considering the night was full of excitement. I’ll have more later this week, including video.

Don’t forget to join me tonight for my live streaming chat with Council Members Michelle Foster and Glen Becerra! We go live at VoteSimiValley.com at 7:00pm!